Even at the height of US power, we didnt do it all ourselves. Our power rested on two pillars: the more time-honored option of overwhelming military force, and the network of alliances and organizations we built after WWII. We were never in a position in which we could call all the shots ourselves; we were always just the first among equals. Today we live in a world of more asymmetric challenges, and as we learned in Iraq, our military might by itself never counted for as much as we had believed. Likewise, increasing globalization simply means that the international community will need even more international agreements to keep things going. Thus the need for our aging international organizations and aging allies a bit frightening. The EU is aging and losing clout; likewise Japan. NATO is under fire from its own members, particularly the French. The Bretton Woods system for international finance is sagging; it was designed in an age in which the U.S. was the only real economic power, and made little provision for trade issues, so we may need Bretton Woods II. The WTO embarrassed itself in its latest effort to resolve global trade issues. The G8 does not yet include the new kids on the block. The UN is a dinosaur, long overdue for reform, without which it will be irrelevant, if indeed it isnt already. Obama wants UN reform. Who should be on the UN Security Council, who gets permanent seats, and who gets veto power? Those who dont get veto power feel as though they are surrendering national sovereignty to a larger body, a concern which plagued U.S. states during the crafting of the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, and which dominated the early years of the EU and the WTO. WTO-- International economic mechanisms are also under fire. Critics claim the WTO just helps the rich get richer; in particular, the developing world hates US/EU farm subsidies which everyone agreed to phase out. They also claim the WTO doesnt address labor or environmental issues; other battles include intellectual propery, reciprocity, transparency, and dispute resolution mechanisms and enforcement. Another issue is getting Russia in currently they are only observers. IMF Also showing its age are the IMF and the IBRD, who at times managed things clumsily even in their youth (see Argentina) and may be ready for reform. The IMF is accused of reacting rather than preventing, and of seeing to austerity efforts, tax increases and their own repayments before addressing poverty. Some argue that in the wake of the current fiscal crisis, a new international mechanism should be set up, wherein the IMF acts as an early-warning system for fiscal crises; it might be better for national oversight mechanisms like the SEC to do their jobs in the first place. If we do reinvent the financial system, people like the BRIC countries should be at the table, keeping in mind that the industrialized world and the developing countries see the IMF differently. If we treat the Asians as cash cows and refuse to listen to them, they may take their money off the table and seek other mechanisms such as regional organizations. Ever since the rise of nations states 500 years ago, Europe has played balance-of-power politics: form alliances to maintain the balance of power so that no single nation can dominate its neighbours. Centuries after Polybius first mentioned the balance-of-power concept, the Duke of Milan pioneered the practical application of it in the 1400s; Henry VIII began 300 years of British adherence to balance-of-power politics, wherein England almost always allied against the top power on the continent, to prevent any single state from gaining too much power, forming a continent-wide state, or dominating the Channel coasts. In the 1700s a number of alliances were formed, and wars fought, to maintain the balance of power; during the early 1800s the European powers actually agreed to pursue balance of power as an explicit continent-wide policy. Balance-of-power politics led to a bewildering series of alliances that culminated in WWI, and then NATO and the Warsaw Pact played the same balance-of-power game for half a century. So for 500 years Europe, and ultimately the world, learned to embrace the balance of power as its mainstay foreign policy. Maintaining a balance of power prevents wars in a time when the business of nations is war. But it also prevents problem-solving in an era in which that is international communitys main business. And therein lies the problem: a balance of power stops wars but it also stops peaceful solutions to global problems. Russia, China and France are working to see to it that the single most powerful state, America, doesnt get too powerful. As a result they are using the UN to prevent the U.S. from taking the lead in solving a wide range of problems, from the Middle East peace process to Iran; it is only because of their footdragging that North Korea has been able to violate its nuclear commitments over and over (how many times can they sell us the same reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for economic concessions?). They do not want us using the international community as our tool of choice for projecting our power. Other nations are quietly cheering them on. This not only undermines some necessary political initiatives, but also undermines the UN itself, and forces the U.S. to considering resorting to military options more often. Bush bungled this aspect so badly during the run-up to the Iraq invasion that the international community wrongly blamed us, rather than our opponents, for damaging the international system. Russia, in particular, wants a world in which it can ignore the UN and instead use its own international mechanisms, such as alliances with other countries who share their suspicions about U.S. policy, and alliances with natural gas producers. Although nominally our NATO ally, France has been working energetically to check U.S. power. They want to replace NATO (itself looking for a raison detre since it was designed to block the now-dead Soviet Union) with a European defense system which uses U.S. support systems but leaves the U.S. out of policy-making. Likewise they want more effort within the EU and less at the UN (although the French and the other Europeans still want France at the UN so they can block the U.S. there too). Although the French have always feared the Germans, they now hope to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Germany, and form an alliance with the Germans themselves, which would in turn dominate European policy. The Germans have tangled with the U.S. on NATO enlargement and Iran sanctions, and they want to avoid provoking the Russians by confronting them with a unified EU policy (which could actually help the U.S.). China has not shown its hand yet. They are letting others take the lead in confronting the U.S. Ultimately the U.S.-Chinese relationship will be the most important. An added headache is that almost all of the nations whom were dealing with have suffered major national humiliations in the course of the last century: France, Germany and China were all conquered, the Russians suffered embarrassments in Afghanistan and Chechnya as their Soviet empire collapsed, and so on. And in every case their path to restoring national grandeur is to get into Uncle Sams face. India is showing signs of the same disease: insisting loudly on a seat at the table (fair enough) and bragging to its domestic audience that it obstructed a deal on the Doha trade round (not so good). The necessary first step is to re-brand America in a more sensitive, humble way, after eight years of Bushs policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, global warming and Kyoto, the Patriot Act, illegal wiretaps and torture, Abu Ghuraib, Guantanamo, the secret prisons in Europe, the ABM treaty, failing to deliver on Iran or Korea or the Palestinians, the failed India nuclear deal. After four years in which Secretary Rice failed to achieve anything of consequence, it got so bad for Rice that the Pope refused to even meet her. Scowcroft said that the United States is more disliked around the world than at any point in history. Obama needs to sell America and American ideals democracy, free-trade, everything. Shutting down Guantanamo and reaching out to Muslims will help. Let people know what we stand for: defending the weak, advancing the cause of freedom, supporting trade with democracies over dictatorships, and fighting bigotry, fanaticism, ideological dogmas, and the third-world plagues of tyranny, corruption, violence and lawlessness. The process of building a new international system and the process of repairing alliances go hand in hand. We need to let others be heard. New players such as the BRIC countries must be allowed to help build the new system, or else they will ignore it and make their own side deals. De-Americanize our policy initiatives by letting the Brits and others (even the French and Germans) take the lead sometimes, seeking out specific leaders, when practical, on specific issues such as the two terror-related problems, arms proliferation and safe havens. And if youre worried about Chinas power, form an alliance with India While we bind our alliances together, we also want to create some cracks in other alliances which are not so helpful. Thankfully we are beyond the Cold-War mindset that sees our enemies as part of one big monolith (an intellectual model which was inaccurate even during the Cold War) and can work to split the Chinese from the Russians, the French from the Germans, Islamic radicals from the rest of the Muslim world; free-trade northern Europeans from the protectionists of the Mediterranean. Seek new tools. Try some purpose-built alliances. Look at regional rather than global strategies when practical. Remind your Foggy Bottom folks that each situation is different and that it is impractical to execute a one-size-fits-all foreign policy.